RUNED, the first book in my new urban fantasy comedy series, releases on March 19, 2019. I haven’t had this much fun writing a book since I penned a little ditty called STRINGS in 2013.
Below you’ll find the first chapter of the book, as well as the audio version of the first chapter. FYI, I recorded this audio myself, just for fun. This is NOT the actual audiobook, which should be out shortly after RUNED releases. I am (obviously) not a professional narrator, but I enjoy playing around with audio and video on occasion. Stay tuned for more about the Audible of RUNED (and STRINGS!) soon
Without further ado, I give you the first chapter of RUNED, written (and read) by yours truly.
There is a forever of nothing.
Until there is a hint of something.
Like the gentle dusting of snow tickled by a light wind, sliding along a plane of ice as far as the eye can see.
I can’t place the voice, but it strums a chord that resonates at my core.
Wake … it says, softer, yet more compelling than the first time.
So, I wake.
In a frozen tomb.
I see a butterfly through the pane of ice pinning me in place.
No, not a butterfly.
Bigger. Faster. With the brilliant iridescence of a shifting aurora.
I am cold.
The cold bites into my skin and gnaws straight down to bone, buries itself within, carving away marrow, crystallizing into permanent residency. It’s the kind of cold that only shows its face in deep winter when the primary source of light is dancing, surreal colors—eerie greens and blues and purples with the occasional saucy red thrown in to tart things up—splashed across the endless night sky. This kind of cold dresses Mother Earth’s green and brown skin in a sparkling, pristine gown of purest white.
It’s terrifying. It’s beautiful.
And it’s bad news for testicles.
You can literally freeze your balls off in this shite.
Ball-freezing cold. That’s what I’m talking about.
Bracing myself for the possible death of my nads, which I cannot feel, I stare wistfully past the clear, hard membrane separating me from the arctic air I sure could use a breath of. If I were out there, I’d pack up my bits like eggs in a puffin burrow and sit on them until the frost broke and spring floods came. For what is a man without his clackers? No man. More like wo-man.
Damn, it’s cold.
I look around, but I can only move my eyes. The rest of me is frozen solid.
Why the Hel am I buried in ice?
Before the whisper, the last thing I remember is sweating profusely against an influx of poison and fire and death and mayhem that had descended on my person. It was almost like something bad happened. Like the cold had been smitten by something far worse than itself, and frozen testicles were highly preferred to the alternative of toasty nuts simmering over the local lava field.
I scan my memory for details, but everything’s fuzzy.
I vaguely recall the realm-splitting baritone blast of Heimdall’s Gjallarhorn rousing me and the other Æsir to battle. The ground shaking with a violent earthquake. The swelling sea. The chaos. Gods, how I love the chaos.
I’m getting a woody just thinking about it. Well, assuming there’s any wood left to be pitched down there. Must find out.
In the interest of testicle preservation, I wiggle. A loud snap! answers. My glacial tomb groans a colossal protest.
Wriggle, push, shove.
Success! I free my head from the ice and snag a breath of fresh, cool air. I gulp in and blow out. I close my eyes for a moment while my lungs retrain themselves. More snapshots of memory coalesce …
An eerie green sky frothing with rainbow ribbons of energy serves as the backdrop to the battlefield in my mind’s eye. Ichor thrums through my veins. The fire, the murderous entropy in the sky magnifies the raging anarchy within me.
There’s a snake. A really big one.
Ah yes, how could I forget? That’s my son Jormundgandr, the Midgard Serpent, whose body spans the girth of the world. He and Thor are having a wee wrestling match. Their jerks and splashes obliterate entire coastlines and drown civilizations.
And Fenrir, my wolfling child, has a go at Uncle Odin. His intelligent canine eyes and flaring nostrils blaze like hellfire. Acidic saliva streams from sharp, blackened fangs to sizzle holes the size of small villages in the earth. That’s my boy!
Such delightful children.
Under the dim rays of sun that barely brush the horizon, shiny golden armor stained with blood gleams, the contrasting red defiling the surrounding pure snow.
Swords drenched in gore swing left and right, up and down. Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer, flies hither and thither. My daughter Hel’s grin spans her two faces—one side virginal white, the other black as pitch—as she gathers souls like the sky gathers storm clouds in spring.
Fire, venom, blood, death.
This is the ultimate fight. The one I’ve spent my entire life waiting for. The one that ends the world and everyone in it.
By Thor’s scraggly red pubic hair, this was Ragnarok!
Which means it wasn’t just a party. It was the party. A party so epic, so all-consuming, so knock-down-drag-out-drunken-orgy-of-violence-and-dismemberment awesome, no one woke up from it the next morning.
Fenrir wasn’t playing fetch with Odin. He was eating him.
Jormundgandr hadn’t been yawning after waking from a long slumber. He was defending his prized globe baby with venomous aplomb against Thor.
Hel hadn’t been toying with gods and frost giants like a set of adorable dolls in her fun house. She’d been welcoming the freshly dead to her underground realm beneath Yggdrasil, the world tree.
I chuckle to myself and shake my head. Those crazy kids. This papa couldn’t be prouder.
Sure, the little tykes might’ve epically failed, but it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?
Also, my kids are what you might call … problem children.
Irrelevant now, as they’re all dead.
But, wait. If they’re dead, then I must’ve died too.
No, that couldn’t be. If I were dead, I wouldn’t be lying under a snow drift with my balls so far up my arse that I can’t feel them anymore.
And why am I feeling anything at all? I’m the god Loki, son of Farbauti and Laufey, Blood Brother to Odin, Burden of Sigyn’s Arms, Breaker of Worlds, Scar-Lipped Trickster.
We gods can sense the temperature, acknowledge its extremes, but it’s not like we suffer ill effects from it. As deities, we don’t mind searing flames or bone-shattering cold. Those things come with the territory. And gods can’t die—not permanently.
So, I’m not dead. By that logic, the others aren’t dead, either.
But the subatomic, immortal hum that normally shuttles among us on a permanent loop, connecting one god to another, is silent.
I feel no one.
I am well and truly confused.
If the kids are toast and I was buried under an ice sheet, someone must’ve taken me out of commission, at least for a short while. I’m sure Odin would’ve liked to have done it after the little stunt I pulled with his son Baldur, but the Allfather was devoured whole by Fenrir. So, probably not him.
And Thor was too busy staving off poisonous waterfalls dripping from my other son’s fangs into his stupid ruddy face to fight me. Mark him off the list.
I’ll bet it was Heimdall. That golden-eyed guardian of the Rainbow Bridge is a real arsehole. He’s had it in for me ever since I stole Freya’s necklace at Odin’s behest.
Ah, that gig was such fun. I transformed into a seal, and then Heimdall did too, and we got into a pinniped boxing match, and he yanked Freya’s jewels out of my flippers, and bragged to all the Æsir about how he totally kicked my arse when he did not kick my arse, not one flipping flippery bit.
Seal flippers are super slippery.
Also, Heimdall has eyes everywhere, and that shite is just unfair.
Moving on …
I, Loki, am here and participating. Not dead. Alive, though freezing my jewels off. And—
The ground beneath me vibrates. I punch my head the rest of the way through the snow and turn it toward a rumble from the north. The bellow is so guttural and deep, it sounds like the quaking of the world tree.
Maybe it’s a dragon. Or an army of marauders. Or a frost giant belching after a hearty draught of ale.
I fear it’s something bigger than all of the above. Badder. Meaner.
I swallow hard. I need shelter, but I’m stuck in a vast white wasteland of snow and ice with no Valhalla in sight. I squint against the descending sun—
Sun? Last thing I remember, there was no sun. It must be spring or summer now.
The clamor grows louder. When I see what’s causing it, my stomach lurches.
There’s a monster coming at me. It’s huge. Bigger than twenty men. It’s the shape of a box, the color of blood and sea, and has wheels under it. The behemoth growls like thunder. Fearing Thor made it out of Ragnarok alive after all, I check the sky for his mighty hammer Mjolnir or slashes of lightning. I find neither.
The terrifying abomination barrels toward me, its arse farting a gray stream of noxious gas. Its white eyes are more chilling than the spike of ice betwixt my butt cheeks.
I panic. My body held fast by this frozen prison, I can’t flee, so I call upon the sacred rune cuffed around my wrist that lends me my immortal power to whisk me away.
Laguz! I mentally shout.
I remain as frozen as the vault of ice strangling me. Gritting my teeth, I push with all my might at the heavy white slab. Why won’t it move? I have the strength of a giant. Hel, I was born to frost-giant parents. Shattering a lousy clump of ice should be effortless, yet here I am.
And the hissing monster rambles onward, intent on my head.
Another shove. An arm free!
Allfather, if you’re listening from the halls of Valhalla, grant me this one wish. Help me find a way out of this mess, and I’ll … I’ll …
I don’t know what.
Because it’s too late.
The steaming creature’s wheels squeal to a halt, spraying my waving arm and face with pellets of white. Its arse end bottom-burps another fog of toxic black gas. I cough and choke and wheeze and flail. In the process, I break free in an explosion of desperation wholly unbecoming of a god of my stature.
Then something horrifying happens. With a bizarre creak, the transparent sheet of ice on the beast’s side lowers and a head pops out.
“You are right?” it asks.
Well, I think that’s what it says. Its speech is pocked with incorrect pronunciation and misplaced accents.
I stare at the strange head and climb all the way out into the arctic tundra, which turns out not to be the complete wasteland I anticipated. I didn’t see the black road snaking through the white plain from my vantage point on the ground.
The head seems human, but I can’t tell about the rest of it. It has lashings of thick, blondish hair and a matching beard. Big blue eyes that seem as surprised to see me as I am to see it peer at me from behind two round, transparent disks framed by black circles.
“You are right?” he says again, more slowly, but equally as awkward as the first.
“Aside from freezing to death from the inside out, thanks to the ice crystals in my nads, yes.”
Whoa. My voice is very high-pitched. Maybe I should warm up my vocal chords. I clear my throat and hum a quick musical scale. Nope. Still sounds like a newborn lamb bleating for its mother.
I must look and sound utterly pathetic.
The monster-man quirks his head and looks at me strangely.
That, I understood perfectly. “How kind of you to notice.”
I glance down at myself … and scream.
Not just any scream. This is the shriek of a maiden discovering on her wedding night that her new husband has two penises.
I don’t have two penises.
I have two things that are much worse.
I have two breasts.
Two no-need-to-stock-up-on-sheep’s-milk-I’ve-got-you-and-the-rest-of-the-village-covered breasts.
I shriek again and run in a circle, kicking a fine cloud of snow into the air, trying to get away from them.
“By Idunn’s ample apples!” I cry.
And that’s when I notice what’s missing beyond the ample apples, farther south, in the valley of my thighs.
“No, no, no, a thousand times no!” I jump up and down, stomping my bare feet in the freezing snow.
The creature waits until I stop screaming. He’s patient. Not judging. In truth, he looks like a person that got eaten by a monster made of iron and ice.
Again, with the strange verbiage and accents, he asks, “Uh, you like this ride into the town?”
Not on that thing’s back. It might eat me.
I look around but don’t see any horses. No Sleipnir—another of my spawn from the time when I changed into a mare and birthed an eight-legged steed—or even a mess of goats.
Changed into a mare.
Birthed a steed.
I glance down at my voluptuous figure. A plume of wavy, wet blond hair hugs my shoulders. My fingers have lost their thickness, now thin and genteel with rounded, shiny nails at the tips. I have long, shapely legs—I check behind me—and a great arse.
I shake my head as I trip over the wire stretching across the punch line to this cruel joke.
I’m a woman.
Not a god who shapeshifted into a woman, but a full-blown, V-card sporting lady who’s got all the mountains and valleys to prove it.
The trickster god Loki, son of frost giants, father to the beasts that brought down Allfather Odin and Thunder-Bringer Thor, who masterminded and personally delivered an end to an entire world, wrapped up in a pretty, bloody red bow has finally been bested.
I can’t say I didn’t have it coming.